Our extract from Jane Maas’s enlightening tale Mad Women:The Other Side of Madison Avenue in the ’60s and Beyond seems to be proving popular (is it the advertising or the sex, or the combination of the two?) so we thought we’d follow it with some George Parker.
George is a British creative who hit New York back in the Sixties and proceeded to upset stereotypical notions of reserved Englishmen. He now writes the compelling AdScam/The Horror! rant (George’s description) about ad doings. Here’s George on the current state of affairs at DraftFCB.
There’s plenty of sex, drugs and rock and roll in George’s book Confessions of a Mad Man (Kindle edition here, worth $5 of anyone’s expenses) but to show that MAA is a serious organ we decided to reprint some of his observations on Madison Avenue and money.
There’s always been a perception in the business world that advertising agencies have an unlimited license to print money. Back in the glory days of the sixties and seventies, this was accepted, because most agencies, in collusion with the avaricious marketing directors of their respective clients, were all playing the same game. Let’s do lunch, let’s go to Yankee Stadium, let’s go to the Mets, let’s play golf, let’s do the sales conference in Tahiti, let’s do Broadway, let’s get laid. Shit, let’s just blow money out of our arses. After all, it’s not ours; it belongs to people dumb enough to invest in our shell-game of a company, which in turn, has decided to blow massive amounts of money on a really big advertising program!
So, nobody gave a shit, because we were all playing the same – I can do it because I can get away with it – game. Which, even though pretty bad, was amateur hour compared to the escapades of the last few years by companies such as MCI, Enron, Tyco, and others, with their “Super CEO’s.” The one’s who’ll maybe end up getting “bitched” in an extremely non-country-club-jail long after they were featured, and forgotten, on the cover of Forbes or Business Week as “Man/Innovator/Futurist/Wanker of the year.”
And, even though I wouldn’t want his high-priced lawyers all over my arse, I would suggest ex General Electric CEO, Jack Welch, provides a prime example of current Twentieth Century Chief Executive greed. After all, here’s a guy who retired with millions in cash, stock options and pension benefits, who will provide nothing of any value to his former company for the rest of his life, yet as just one of the many perks GE is dumb enough to provide, he expects them to pick up the tab for thousands of dollars worth of fresh flowers every month in his company provided Fifth Avenue apartment, even though he’ll only stay in the place when he’s flown into town on a company jet to take advantage of the company provided tickets for every re-run on Broadway, the US open, the Met, the Knicks, the Kicks, and the latest Lady Ga Ga concert. He even gets a life time supply of “vitamin” pills. Probably the little blue ones, for crying out loud!
It hasn’t got to that stage in the agency business yet, but I have no doubt that it will. Only a few years ago, when freelancing for one of New York’s biggest agencies, I had to get some ads approved by a senior agency executive late one evening so they could be finished up for a presentation early the next day. This meant schlepping it round to his Fifth Avenue penthouse apartment. But, as he and his wife were having the place remodeled, he asked me to bring the work to their temporary digs at the Carlisle Hotel. This turned out to be a two bedroom suite (they had no kids, just a dog) which had to be in the region of $1000 to $1500 a night for the three week stay. The agency was picking up the tab. Which, if you think about it, means that the agency’s clients were picking up the tab. They just didn’t know they were.
You might presume that as most agencies are now part of multi-national conglomerates run by dull-witted bean counters all of whom would be just as happy selling pipe fittings or insurance policies, providing it generated sufficient profit, these somewhat dubious practices would be a thing of the past… Au contraire…
When I first got into the business, back in the Mad Man days of the sixties, virtually every agency was still a private company, so management didn’t have to be bothered with such bothersome distractions as shareholders or Wall Street busybodies. This meant you could spend a significant portion of the client’s budget on lunch at The Four Seasons, afternoon cocktails at the Ground Floor, and dinner at the Rainbow Room, all with relative impunity.
You always flew first class, got driven around in limos, and wouldn’t be caught dead staying in anything less than a five-star hotel. Yet strangely enough, the quality of the resulting advertising often seemed to justify this shameless extravagance. And because everyone else in the business was doing it, no one seemed to care very much.
Now, because of the pressure dictated by trying to meet their quarterly numbers, agencies which find themselves trapped within the slimy tentacles of such conglomerates as Omnicom, WPP, Publicis or IPG are forced to crank out mundane, often terrible work, and unlike senior management (who will always find ways to live high on the hog) the unfortunate peons who actually do the work, can’t even enjoy themselves while they’re doing it! Unlike the situation a few years ago when Michael Furlong, my Art Director Partner and I enjoyed a rather memorable almost five hundred dollar lunch at Smith and Willensky’s Steak House on Third Avenue. And why not? At the time we were working on the American Express account and considered it an essential piece of research in order to come up with ideas for their latest “fine dining” campaign! Unfortunately, as three quarters of the tab was for insanely fine wine and well aged cognac, we didn’t remember too much about it.
The current state of the ad industry can best be summed up in the reputed words of a senior executive at the New York office of one of WPP’s agencies. When asked how he rated the quality of the work currently being produced by his agency, he replied, “Fuck the work, it’s about the money!”
My first real agency job in the US after escaping England for the second time was with Benton & Bowles, which after many dumb fuck mergers became DMB&B, which was finally acquired by Publicis and closed down by le frogs in 2002 after it turned to merde. When I joined what was then one of the great US agencies, I was twenty-four, and within a few weeks had been introduced to the sybaritic pleasures of the three martini lunch by my fellow B&B’ers.
My immediate boss was a terrific guy by the name of Joe Arleo, who always called me “Kid,” even though he was barely three or four years older than me. Joe was the archetypal ad man of the ‘Sixties. He wore thick, knobby-tweed Brooks Brothers suits in the winter, paper-thin, seersucker Saks suits in the summer (this was long before the days of five thousand dollar Armani’s), and smoked a huge briar pipe year round.
The first account Joe had me work on was Charmin bathroom tissues for Procter & Gamble. That’s right, “bathroom tissues,” ‘cos P&G was adamant that you never, ever called them toilet rolls, or even got close to hinting that their sole purpose was for wiping your arse. The hero of every spot was — you guessed it — Mr. Whipple! The actor playing this advertising icon was a delightful guy by the name of Dick Wilson, who supposedly made the very first Charmin commercial in, appropriately enough, Flushing, New York.
Dick starred in over 500 spots from 1964 to 1990 and was even brought back for an encore campaign in 1999. Apart from making tons of money from the actual TV ads themselves, Dick also earned a small fortune cutting the ribbon at openings of new supermarkets. (Rumor has it that on these occasions Dick was mobbed by twittering hordes of little old ladies anxious to have their Charmin squeezed!) What they didn’t realize, ‘cos Dick rarely talked about it, was that as a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940, Dick had served as a Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain and been decorated several times for valor. Not a guy to be squeezed lightly!
It’s a sad reflection on the current state of the ad industry that when P&G finally decided to dip its toe in the Super Bowl advertising cesspit and blow a few million on a new TV commercial for the 2004 championship game, they passed on resurrecting reliable Mr. Whipple. Instead, they chose to do a pseudo-sports spot featuring a quarterback bending over to grab the snap from the center, only to discover that instead of the expected towel hanging from the player’s belt, there was a long strand of toilet paper! The tag line for this awesomely obnoxious example of advertising art was: “Charmin Bathroom Tissues, softer and stronger for your end zone.”
Yes indeed. You can’t make this shit up.